Thursday, June 16, 2011

Evolution of a Painting

For the first time in a long time, I attempted to paint people -- and it became an absorbing exercise.
Our models!
I started with a photograph (which I like to think of as models that don't move). I selected one with which I've actually always had a somewhat awkward relationship; I find something unsettling about their expressions. But that was exactly the draw in terms of painting: strong emotional content and body language.    
Edited photo

Then I edited the photography down to the composition I wanted, one highlighting their faces, and which also mirrored the scale of the canvas I would be using. I ended up moving them closer together so they fit better, hence the noticeable line at their shoulders.

Next, I printed out the photo on my black and white printer. Given that I was fairly sure I wouldn't be using the same color scheme, I was more interested in seeing the light and dark of shadows. And, well, I don't have a color printer. 

I folded that paper in quarters and drew the same guidelines on the canvas, with the hope that I wouldn't get so hopefully off that way. I used pencil -- bad idea, as I had to paint over it.  I'll use charcoal in the future, since that will smudge away when I no longer need it. I heard recently that some people now use projectors, but that seems a little bit like cheating to me.  And while I am trying to plan more, I like the unexpected that produces new directions, the discovery in the process of painting.   

The first completed draft of the painting looked like this:

First complete draft
This was after I'd redone her mouth twice and his nose once (with somewhat limited success, but hey, it's better than it was), but before I re-did both their eyes (so that, for instance, he no longer looked like he was wearing eye shadow) The first wash of the painting was a background shade, the light gold that you see coming through the window, was almost entirely swallowed by other elements, but somehow, it was nice to have that base color, rather than straight white.  And it turned out to be a happy accident - the idea of a growing, light-filled window connecting them on a symbolic level really worked for me so I eliminated the weird curtains from the photo, making the window both more central, but also its detail more diffuse.   

The painting as it stands now looks like this:

As it stands right now
I wouldn't say it's done, but it's resting for the moment, until I can come to it with fresh eyes.  Relative to the original photo, umm, ok, not exactly an amazing copy, no.  But I am pleased that they do a) look recognizable as people and b) have emotional exchange. 

I was reading more of Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain last night as part of my project to be a little less inept in the drawing department. I have not yet comfortably gotten to the point where everything is just shapes with no symbolic value.  But I am starting to get a glimmerings of how that works, of being able to make that transition to a different kind of thinking when I'm working on art.  Progress, however, slow, is satisfying. One thing that amused me is that one of the items that often harder for beginners to draw (or paint, in this case) because of the high symbolic value is a shirt collar.  We think we know what it looks like, so we don't actually see it as it is. I definitely had that with her turtleneck, which, I am aware, looks more like a priest collar.

I also completely eliminated the hood of her coat, which instead turned into a background image, that of a couch under the window (which may not be clear to anyone but me, but that's what it is). 

Yes, a long way to go.  But progress. 

Afterall, let's consider many years ago, when during a very brief spate of painting, I tried to paint a face, and it ended up looking like this:


And with no recognizable personality.

You can sort of see why I gave up on people for a while, given the inauspicious beginning.

But I'm going to keep going with the people this time. One recommedation I can make to new painters: if you have opportunity to use BIG canvases, go for it. My new painting is enormous -- 4 foot by 5 foot or so (part of the stash of old canvases with which I was gifted when I was living in in the artist's studio).  While it's a little daunting having larger than life people looking down on you, it's also much easier to put in details, as on that scale, even the details are broad strokes. 

Happy painting!

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